Standardisation based on patent-protected technologies is a key contributor to industrial innovation and competitiveness. The European Commission supports the improvement of the framework governing the inclusion of patent-protected technologies into standards and the facilitation of the licensing process for these technologies.
Patents provide incentives for research and development, and facilitate knowledge transfers. Standards ensure the rapid diffusion of technologies and the interoperability between products.
Many standards are based on patented technologies. For example, the mobile telecommunications industry is driven by a heavy reliance on standardisation, which is made up of a great number of innovations protected by patents. 2G (GSM), 3G (UMTS), 4G (LTE), 5G and WiFi networks rely on thousands of patented technologies to work. Such communication standards are also key for the development of the hyper-connected society, for example in the field of the Internet of Things in sectors such as consumer electronics, the automotive industry and the electricity grid industry.
Organisations engaged in standard setting have developed rules and practices to ensure the efficient licensing of patents that are essential for their standards ('standard-essential patents'). A smooth licensing environment is essential to the success of a standard. It helps to achieve broad and rapid diffusion of innovation and to give patent holders an adequate return on investment in research and development (R&D). It also gives all users of the standard fair access at a reasonable cost.
To ensure that Europe is well positioned in today’s competitive global environment, the Commission supports a smooth and balanced functioning of the system for standard essential patents (SEPs). This includes removing unnecessary barriers in the market for the licensing of SEPs.
In November 2017 the Commission adopted, as part of the IP package on enforcement, the Communication, 'Setting out the EU approach to Standard Essential Patents'. It provides for a clearer framework to incentivise the development of, and ease the access to key technologies that enable interconnection and connectivity. Stakeholders will have better legal certainty for the development and licensing of technologies required for the hyper-connected society. The Communication covers 3 key aspects of SEPs. It
From October 2014 to February 2015, the Commission held a public consultation on patents and standards. This consultation allowed stakeholders interested in standards that involve patents to provide their views on
The 2017 Communication, 'Setting out the EU approach to Standard Essential Patents', announced that the Commission would monitor SEP licensing markets with a particular focus on internet of things (IoT) technologies. In this context, it would also set up an expert group to deepen expertise on industry licensing practices, sound IP valuation and FRAND (fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory) determination.
The expert group was created by a Commission decision in July 2018 and was composed of 15 members. Information about the activities of the expert group can be found on the Group of experts on licensing and valuation of standard essential patents page in the register of Commission expert groups.